Writers’ association PEN International has called the possible extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the UK to the US a fundamental rights infringement just days before a final ruling is expected from the London High Court.
Assange is currently held in a UK prison and is facing charges of espionage in the US for leaking military documents which exposed human rights violations by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a statement on Tuesday, PEN International President Burhan Sonmez said that “using espionage laws to target journalists and publishers who disclose information in the public interest infringes fundamental rights of press freedom and freedom of expression.”
It also nodded to the possibility of an application before the European Court of Human Rights, one of a few last-ditch efforts to protect the whistleblower from a 175-year sentence if found guilty.
His extradition and legal attempts to stop it have been ongoing for several years, but a final decision is expected from the UK’s highest court between February 20 and 21.
He reiterated PEN’s calls for the US authorities to “drop the charges against Assange and withdraw their extradition request” and called for the publisher’s immediate release.
“The fact that a government decides that a specific document is secret or confidential does not make it so,” noting that the “public’s right to know overrides the state’s desire to keep matters secret,” Sonmez added.
Last week, The Shift reported how Assange’s extradition was objected to by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The OHCHR made a last-minute appeal to UK authorities to halt the extradition to the United States, while the European Parliament inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to him and his work.
Assange has been imprisoned in the UK since 2019 after he left the Ecuadorian embassy where he had been seeking refuge for seven years.
If the UK court rules in favour of his extradition, Assange will have exhausted all possible recourse under British law. His wife, Stella, has said that if this happens, they will try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to block the extradition.